California voters took to the polls on Nov. 5, 1996, and passed Proposition 209, which forbade state government organizations from considering race, ethnicity or sex in areas that include public education and employment.
Suffice it to say, Prop 209 banned affirmative action in the state. Despite constant protest and legislative proposals to amend the law for public education, it still stands 16 years later — and that’s the way it should be.
Affirmative action is in the news again, this time after UC President Mark Yudof and the 10 UC Chancellors submitted an amicus curiae “friend of the court” brief to the U.S. Supreme Court last Monday in support of the University of Texas at Austin. In the case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a white student argues that the university discriminated against her based on her race, as Texas has a policy of considering race in its admission process.
More curious for us than the actual suit is the brief itself. Yudof and the chancellors are symbolically going against the wish of the voters by siding with Texas. They are not standing for California and its voters, and they are not representative of the state and system for which they work. California voters should make it known that they disapprove of this about-face — assuming they still do.
We certainly do. While we appreciate and hope for more diversity on campus, affirmative action is not the appropriate avenue. Affirmative action is an attempt to fix racism by being racist, and it would be detrimental to what is already an oftentimes hostile campus climate. Moreover, it does not attack the deep structural problems of diversity in college admissions.
There is always talk of funding for higher education, but K-12 education must not be forgotten. Primary and secondary education, rather than schools like UC Berkeley, should take center stage. Teachers are not paid enough, kids don’t receive enough attention and the curriculum — with the nonsensical No Child Left Behind Act and its ill-suited emphasis on test scores — is insufficient. The problems are endless. How can we expect Californians to attend UC schools when they are struggling in elementary school?
Affirmative action is not a solve-all. Our university has structures in place to maintain a diverse student body, specifically our holistic review policy in admissions, in which an applicant’s entire file is read as a whole and not in parts. Academics and test scores are criteria, along with essays, extracurricular activities, personal qualities, opportunities and chances. UC Berkeley and UCLA have used holistic review since 2001 and 2007, respectively, and the others UCs are on the path toward implementing it.
Holistic review brings in people with different ideas and and interests. UC Berkeley has an intellectual diversity that is perhaps unmatched across the country.
This system looks at an applicant as an individual, not as a person of a certain race or ethnicity. Despite limitations individuals have faced due to race or economic background, they should be evaluated in terms of what they have done with the opportunities they had.
Economic opportunities and primary education are the roots — putting a new coat of paint on the house does not fix its problems in the foundation.